I have another piece that was featured on Medium yesterday.
Sometimes it feels like a secret society, this adoption thing.
I’ve been at a writer’s residency the past month at the Vermont Studio Center, and as I read from my book manuscript a couple of weeks ago, I looked out at the faces in the audience. I know that whenever I read from my memoir afterwards, either right away or in the coming days, there will be whispered conversations. People tell me their stories–or maybe not the story at all–just that they are a birthmother or an adoptee.
I’m still thinking of the young man who waited until the day before he left to tell me how much he appreciated the reading. “I’m a child of adoption,” he said. I saw loss and longing and questions in his eyes. The intensity of it threw me off balance, and I had one of those moments wherein I tried to say something right and good, but because I was trying so hard, I can’t remember what it was I said.
I would have liked to have said that I’d bet a million dollars that his mother loved him and has missed him every day of her life.
Probably you’ve at least heard of it. It seems like everyone is talking about it–the Hulu series about the dystopian future where women with two good ovaries are fated to be surrogates for wives of societal stature who are infertile. For birthmothers this is where the dystopian future meets the dystopia past. Birthmothers have already lived in this world and handed over our children to those that society deemed worthy.
I felt this when I read the book in 1989 (while nursing my youngest child,) but watching it come alive on the screen brought a bitterness that I have not tasted for some time.
In the story it’s customary for all the handmaids in the neighborhood to attend a birth. While the adoptive mother in waiting lies on a white sheet in a stylish living room, moaning though fake labor pains with the other wives coaching her, upstairs the real labor progresses with the handmaid who is lucky enough to have conceived a child in this toxic future world. When the birth is imminent, the handmaid leaves the luxurious marriage bed for a birthing chair, the privileged wife sitting behind her as if she too is pushing through the labor pains. When the baby is out, it’s the wife who situates herself in bed and receives the baby. The handmaid, (birthmother) is just a few feet away, empty-handed and anguished, longing to hold her child. A sister handmaid turns her face away from the baby and its new mother. Then the entire room of handmaids converge on her, hovering over her, murmuring their comfort. It’s a wrenching scene, but for those of us who were handmaids of the 60s and 70s, we had no compatriots.
At the moment of my son’s birth, the intern in the delivery room joyfully asked me if this was my first child. Before I had a chance to utter a syllable, the doctor in charge guffawed. “She’s an unwed mother,” he said. My son was wrapped is a blanket and whisked away.
I suspect most of us gave birth that way. No family present. The baby’s father not allowed anywhere near. No murmured comforts anywhere.
Here’s the link.
The target audience for the AAC is mostly adoptees, I think. Some birthparents too.
I wrote the piece with adoptive parents in mind. So if you know some adoptive parents, maybe pass it on.
Nonetheless, I’m grateful to The Beacon for the publication.
In my morning scroll though Facebook, I stumbled across a post that had to do with The Adoption Museum. The what? I said. The what? The initial exhibit back in May of 2013 had to do with birthmothers (yes, there was an ensuing controversy about the term) and I had no idea that the project existed or that the event occurred. I missed it.
In 2013 I was still adjusting to my first year as a caregiver. In May I was obsessing over my mother’s CPAP machine. All of that–my life as a caregiver, living with my mother, weekends with the man who loved me visiting us, doing what I could to support my younger daughter as she worked on her master’s degree–all of that seems so long ago as if the four of us here together in this house was a dream.
I suppose there are plenty of days that the memory of giving birth to my son and then giving him up resides in the background too. But some days the experience lives inside me close to the surface–not just his birth and the subsequent relinquishment or even the two decades of secrecy or the visceral memory of shame and grief. It’s that girl, the girl I was then. She comes to live inside me. I was a different person then. The other big events– the deaths, divorces, estrangements– happened to the person I now know to be me. But that girl. A visit from her is like time travel and space travel rolled into one. She’s an alien and she is me.
Anyway, there are still ways to get involved and a newsletter you can subscribe to. They are open to feedback.
So I’m just shouting it out. And thinking about what feedback I’d like to provide–where to begin, actually. I am nothing but feedback when it comes to adoption.
Here’s the link to a newspaper article about Simone Biles’ birthmother. I read it twice. And I also read another interview with her in the Huffington Post and in the New York Daily News–all based on an interview with her from TMZ
She said she’s glad she and her daughter are not estranged any longer, but their relationship is still fledgling.
She says that she wished her dad hadn’t thrown her under the bus in a recent interview of his with the press. She said she thought he was insensitive about the way he described her battle with addiction.
She admits that she took the loss of her children very badly. She admits that she yelled at her father and that she was hard-headed, that she didn’t understand then why she couldn’t see her kids but she says she understands it now. She admits that she wan’t able to care for them back then.
She admits that she was an addict and says that she’s been clean for nine years now.
She is raising her two youngest children herself. She has a job.
It seems pretty clear that Shannon Biles’ children were in jeopardy. “In and out of foster care” is not a good thing. It worked out well, probably better than imagined, that Simone’s grandfather and his wife legally adopted Simone and her sister and are now their mom and dad. Hooray for all that. Gold medals all around.
While I understand the hunger of the media for a story and the curiosity of Olympic viewers and the general public about all this, I don’t understand the hate directed at Shannon Biles in the comments sections.
Shannon Biles was an addict. She lost custody of four children. That’s a clusterfuck of hurt for a lot of people, including innocent children. It’s personal disaster beyond measure. BUT this woman who lost her children and the respect of her father is now clean. She has turned her life around. In the olympics of her personal life, that’s pretty damn golden too.
Birthmothers/first mothers/bio mothers are human beings deserving of compassion. We did what we did for a million reasons. Put on those shoes, haters. Try a little running and jumping in them and when your feet are bloody, give thanks for your perfect life and your shiny veneer over your hate-filled soul. I have to try a little bit not to wish you ill, but I can do it. I wish you well. I wish for you understanding, and some personal peace, and an inclination for you to share that with the world instead of hate.
image at the top of this post is from stargazer-gemini.deviantart.com
This story highlights the aspect of secrecy in adoption. A secret weighs heavy on the heart. A secret can be found out. You mind your tongue, look over your shoulder, scan the room for a face with a knowing look. Your heart begs you to lift its burden.
Not long ago I was having lunch with new friends when someone asked the ages of my children. The answer to this question always elicits raised eyebrows or a comment. “I had my son when I was a teenager,” I said. “He was given up for adoption, but I reconnected with him.” I always keep the answer short, but people want to know more. When I say that I searched for my son and found him, people think that I’m Nancy Drew, or that I’m super courageous, or a ballsy political activist. My answer is just, I had to.
And sometimes we feel we have to tell our stories. Here’s the link to Caitriona Palmer’s book.
There are millions of us. For every adoptee, there is a birthmother. We’re your sisters, your friends, your aunts, your cousins, your teammates, your co-workers, your wives and girlfriends, that person next to you on the plane who’s flying home to see her mom and tells you everything after her 4th rum and coke.
Each of our stories is unique and they’re all the same. What you say to the particular birthmother(s) that you know probably depends on the story. Think about what you know. Step into her shoes. Is she still keeping her secret from others with you being one of the few in her confidence? Is she happily reunited with her son or daughter? Has her child refused to meet her? Is she searching? Does she have other children? Maybe you invite her over for coffee or take her out for a drink. Maybe you tell her you feel enriched by knowing her story, or you give her a card or a take time for a conversation. Maybe you ask her what she thinks of Birthmother’s Day, which is today, by the way, in case you didn’t know.
I don’t exactly hate the idea of Birthmother’s Day, myself. But I don’t really love it either. The phrase Happy Birthmother’s Day pretty much gets stuck in my throat. I’d rather cough up a carving knife than say that, but the idea of commemoration is a good one. We’re here. So, I’m thinking of us and all of our stories.
My memoir, “Birth Mother,” published last summer by Shebooks is now available on audible.com. I’ve listened to the sample, and while it’s kind of strange for me to hear another voice reading my words, I like the reader’s voice a lot. She sounds, well….kinda like me.
There are other fabulous books by women from Shebooks on Audible too. Check them out.
Though the poem, “Fable” by Louise Glück is not meant to be about adoption, it resonated with me nonetheless. But not in the way you might think. Not pitting adoptive mother against birth mother. For me, it cracked open the suffering of the two daughters, which might be an element in an adoption reunion story (though this is not the real-life situation the poet is most likely drawing on from her own childhood.) The pull of loss and grief is strong in this poem, deep and primal. A piece of the story perhaps for many in the world of adoption.
BY LOUISE GLÜCK
Two women with
the same claim
came to the feet of
the wise king. Two women,
but only one baby.
The king knew
someone was lying.
What he said was
Let the child be
cut in half; that way
no one will go
drew his sword.
Then, of the two
renounced her share:
the sign, the lesson.
you saw your mother
torn between two daughters:
what could you do
to save her but be
willing to destroy
yourself—she would know
who was the rightful child,
the one who couldn’t bear
to divide the mother.